Greening the blue: How we’re restoring Kenya’s mangroves

Levis Sirikwa and local community members planting mangroves in Mikindani, Mombasa, Kenya to mark World Environmental Day in 2018.

My name is Levis Sirikwa, and I’m a marine ecologist from Kenya and co-founder of the Ceriops Environmental Research Organization. I’m working to actively restore degraded mangroves in Kenya through an initiative called Greening the Blue

You may be wondering: why restore mangroves? I first became interested when I learned that the ecosystem was highly threatened, and yet it supported most of the local communities around it. I first discovered them when I visited Mombasa on a field trip back in 2010. At first, I was amused to find trees that grow in salty water. During that field trip, I learned about the role of mangroves in the livelihoods of local communities on Kenya’s coastal strip, as well as its significance in the preservation of the culture of the community. 

Greening the blue

‘Greening the blue’ simply means planting mangrove trees to restore degraded mangrove ecosystems. As of 2018, Kenyan mangroves had a degradation rate of 5 percent per year. To tackle these challenges, I teamed up with Derrick Muyodi to form the Ceriops Environmental Research Organization with the prime purpose of inspiring the community and local youth to restore the degraded ecosystems actively.

Back in the 20th century, mangrove exportation in Kenya was a major industry before restrictions were enacted. As a result, as observed in the figure below, first-generation mangroves were commercially logged, which led to the degradation of large mangrove landscapes.

The degradation of mangroves threatens their ability to sustain livelihoods, as Indigenous communities rely on the ecosystem not only for wood products but also for marine fisheries. Mangroves are a nursery ground for most of the marine fauna of economic importance, and if they are lost, the fauna loses their habitat, threatening the food security of the Indigenous communities.

Examples of degraded mangrove landscapes, as demonstrated by tree stumps and open landscapes.

Restoring degraded mangroves

To support local initiatives, we developed the Mikoko na Jamii mangrove restoration model. Mikoko simply means “mangroves,” and Jamii means “community.” The model’s main purpose is not only to integrate scientific knowledge and Indigenous knowledge in mangrove restoration and conservation but also to position the community at the center of restoration.

A site in Jomvu Kuu, Mombasa, restored with the Bidii Reek Conservancies community group.

The ecosystem

The mangrove ecosystem, also known as a blue forest, consists of woody trees of different species zoned uniquely. The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region is home to nine identified mangrove species, all of which are found in Kenya. Four of the nine species are mainly used for restoration. The species include Rhizophora mucronata (Red mangrove), Brugeria gymnorrhizah (Black mangrove), Ceriops tagal (Yellow mangrove), and Avicennia marina (Grey mangrove).

The mangrove ecosystems not only mitigate the negative impacts of climate change by storing carbon, but also help the local communities adapt to its effects. Scientific reports that mangroves can sequester about 5 to 10 times more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems.

Mangrove planting activity with young mangrove champions from Nairobi called Spice Warriors.
Our young, vibrant, and passionate team steering active mangrove restoration in Kenya.
Mapping, GIS and remote sensing are integral components of our mangrove restoration model.

Lessons learned

Having worked with community groups for the last half a decade, our team has learned some valuable lessons about active mangrove restoration. These lessons are:

  • Always track and document the little things you do in the ecosystem, both as an individual and as an organization. This will help inform major decisions on the management of the ecosystem.
  • Establish standard operating procedures for restoration to ensure coherence and success. For instance, mangrove nurseries could be established in a certain way by the community to reduce the mortality of seedlings.
  • Local community groups are valuable partners, and their involvement is crucial to a successful restoration.
  • Restoration should benefit local communities. All restoration efforts should aim to improve the livelihoods of local communities around the ecosystem.
  • Always partner for impact. Make sure that these impacts can easily be quantified and appreciated by all stakeholders involved.

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.